Both long time residents of Minsk and the city's "F.O.B.s" can now take a quick and memorable excursion up and down Independence Avenue. When it comes to information support, has got your back.
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Niezaležnasci Avenue (Independence Avenue, праспект Незалежнасці, проспект Независимости) is more than 200 years old. From 1801 to 1919 it was called Zacharjeŭskaja Street (after governor Zaсhar Karneeŭ), but as late as the revolution, Minskers referred to the street simply as “behind the wall” or “on the wall” (since a city wall once stood here), or New City. Up until the beginning of the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet term for World War II), the street's solid, two and three-story brick buildings had been “sprouting” extra floors. Because of this, they would collapse like a house of cards during later bombardments.
The avenue's million names
Zacharjeŭskaja Street (1801–1919), New City (1812, when Napoleon’s troops conquered Miensk and brought back the ancient street’s historic name) Hauptstrasse (or Main Street, 1918, Minsk under the Kaisers), Soviet Street (under short lived Soviet power, 1919), Adam Mickiewicz Street (1919–1920, the years of Polish rule), Soviet Street (1920–1941, up until the Institute of Physical Education, when it turned into Pushkin Street), Hauptstrasse (1941–44, Minsk under the nazis) Soviet and Pushkin again (1944–1952, after October 1952 only a small part of the street retained the name Soviet – from Sverdlov Street to Myasnikov Square), Stalin Avenue (1952-1961, note that Stalin died in 1953), Lenin Avenue (1961–1991), Francysk Skaryna Avenue (1991–2005), and since 2005, Independence Avenue.
The avenue has moved almost 10 meters to the right
At the beginning of the 19th Century, Zacharjeŭskaja Street ran almost a block lower than today’s Independence Avenue. It may be hard to believe, but local historians confirm that Zacharjeŭskaja ran from the modern City Wall to Pieramohi Square (Victory Square, плошча Перамогі, площадь Победы). It didn’t acquire today’s trajectory until after the Second World War.
The Avenue has an appendix
This is Soviet Street, which originates at the Railroad bridge, runs along the Government houses, the Red Church, and would have once merged smoothly with the old Zacharjeŭskaja Street. As early as the 1950s and 60s, when Lenin Square was being embellished, many old houses on Soviet Street were taken down. But the appendix of this main street has remained to this day.
No taking pictures!
Back when Belarus was divided between Western Belarus and the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic, Miensk, the capital of Soviet Belarus, lay only a few dozen kilometers away from the border of hostile bourgeois Poland. The enemy did not slumber, and would stop at nothing in pursuit of its evil intentions. This included employment of the latest technologies. For this very reason in Miensk, and especially on Soviet Street, taking pictures without special permission from government agencies was forbidden. And for this very reason there are so few pictures of pre-war capital preserved in the archives.
They wanted to move Minsk 10 kilometers away
After the Great Patriotic War, Minsk authorities ran into a dilemma: what should they do with a half destroyed city? Move it, restore it, or rebuild it from scratch? Architect Vladimir Korol reminisces that moving the city 10 km was taken under serious consideration. But they decided against it, choosing instead to rebuild it from scratch: restoring the historical parts of the city wasn’t desirable either. And there was, it seems, considerable damage. According to statistics from the Inventory Bureau of the City Executive Committee, as of the 1st of January, 1946, 54.2% of available housing in the city had been destroyed. In comparison, 90% of Warsaw was destroyed; historical buildings there were renovated practically from nothing. After the war almost nothing was left of Zacharjeŭskaja Street.
Constructivism, not Stalinist “Empire” style
According to pre-war plans for the development of Minsk, the main avenue was to be built in the cutting edge and then-popular Constructivist Style (cf. the House of Government, the old National Library, the Officer's House). Some even dreamed that Minsk would become the capital of Soviet Constructivism.
But closer to the 1940s, Constructivism fell out of favor: the ascetic, rectangular buildings were now “bourgeois” and “hideous.” What the proletariat really needed was ancient Roman palaces. Moreover, after the war Belarusians needed to bolster the feeling of uncontested monumentalism and reliability of Soviet power-- neoclassicism rose to the challenge. Thus, you could call the avenue's style Stalinist Empire, Stalinist Neoclassicism, Monumentalism, and Historicism and still be completely right.
After the war the avenue was made two times wider
Zacharjeŭskaja Street used to be 18–26 meters across. But Stalin avenue was made twice as wide: the width of the road became 24 meters, and each sidewalk was widened by 12 meters.
Trees were transported to the avenue in wooden tubs
If you look at pictures of the avenue just after it was rebuilt, beautiful trees cannot but catch your eye. And these are not just saplings, but fully mature trees. It turns out that when the avenue was being built up, 25 year old lindens were transported there in special wooden tubs. Why lindens? Because Minsk was liberated from the Germans in July, the month of lindens (“lipien”) in the Belarusian language.
The avenue was raised and lowered several meters
During construction of the main artery of the avenue, its relief was “smoothed out.” For example, near GUM (the State Department Store), the area was raised by 1.5–2 meters, and along a side facade of the Palace of Unions, a section of the relief along the road was elevated 3 meters. Because of this, Red Army Street became a dead end, and a stairway was built from the Square of the Officers’ House to today's Kastryčnickaja Square (October Square, Кастрычніцкая плошча, Октябрьская площадь).
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Photos by , buy-forum.ru, from photoalbum by Zianon Pazniak “Minsk” (1968), book by Vital Kiryčenka “Minsk. Historical Portrait of the City. 1953–1959” (Minsk, 2006), personal archive of the author.